The 46-year-old man demonstrated his fitness by performing some textbook push-ups – after six rounds of boxing.
After the 12th and final round, this extraordinary 46-year-old, Philadelphia’s Bernard Hopkins, dropped to the canvas and performed some more push-ups, as if to say he was still fresh enough to go 12 more rounds.
“I will not retire until I get to 50,” said Hopkins, who made sure to give a post-fight shout-out to Germantown, Mt. Airy and Graterford, where he spent five years in prison for armed robbery.
Fighting until age 50 might sound like false bravado from anyone other than Hopkins. The Executioner, as Hopkins is known, became the oldest boxer in history to win a recognized world championship Saturday night with a unanimous decision over 28-year-old Jean Pascal in the Bell Centre in Montreal.
The previous record for the oldest boxer to win a championship was held by heavyweight George Foreman, who was 45 when he knocked out Michael Moorer. But Foreman wasn’t looking too good in his fight with Moorer before his punching power earned him the championship. By contrast, Hopkins completely controlled Saturday night’s fight with Pascal after the early rounds, just as he did in their first bout last December.
The first fight ended in an unsatisfying draw. Pascal knocked Hopkins down twice during the first three rounds – the first time he had been knocked down twice in a fight in 18 years. But Hopkins dominated the rest of the fight, leading many observers to say that Hopkins should have been declared the winner.
Hopkins (52-5-2) started slowly again Saturday, but Pascal was rarely able to land a big punch. As in the first fight, the older Hopkins got better as the fight progressed.
“I’m 46,” Hopkins said. “I feel like I’m 36.”
That would still make Hopkins eight years older than Pascal. Hopkins, however, transforms his age into a challenge to be met rather than an anchor to hold him back.
If anything, Hopkins uses his age to his psychological advantage. When Pascal stayed on his stool until the last possible moment every round while Hopkins stood waiting in the center of the ring, Hopkins called attention to that fact by dropping to the canvas at the start of the seventh round and doing push-ups. It was as if Hopkins was saying to Pascal, “While your 28-year-old body is tiring out, this 46-year-old is still fresh halfway through the fight.”
Hopkins landed far more punches than Pascal (26-2-1), landing more punches in every round from the third through the 11th. A master tactician, Hopkins rarely let Pascal find his rhythm, disrupting the champion with jabs, right-hand leads and everything else he had at his disposal.
“Bernard gave me a lot of experience,” Pascal said. “These two fights are going to take me to the next level.”
Pascal, as Hopkins demonstrated during the fight and said afterward, still has a lot to learn. He has punching power and athletic skill, but he was like a pupil learning at the feet of his master during Saturday’s fight.
“The name of the game is to hit and not get hit,” Hopkins said.
The two times Pascal landed heavy punches, once early in the fight and once in the 12th round, Hopkins was able to use his ring smarts to buy time and fend off the younger man without sustaining any significant damage. While acknowledging that, at 46, he gets hit with some punches that may not have landed when he was younger, Hopkins emphasized that he can take a good punch when needed.
“I’ve always fought with heart,” Hopkins said. “I’ve always fought with courage.”
Hopkins has also always seemed to fight against the odds. First, there was the five-year stint in Graterford. Then there were some early losses. Then it was his age. In his last fight with Pascal, it was the judges.
So when the 46-year-old signed for a rematch with the 28-year-old champion in his own backyard, the odds seem stacked against Hopkins again. Just the way he likes it.
Although he didn’t knock Pascal out, Hopkins dominated the fight thoroughly enough that the judges couldn’t take the fight away from him, although one judge scored Hopkins the winner by just one point.
The Executioner does not execute his opponents with one swift blow. He beats them down by executing his game plan and boxing fundamentals to near-perfection.
And Hopkins made it clear that he’s not done yet. Not by a long shot.
“Before I leave this game, you’re going to see the best fights of Bernard Hopkins’ career,” Hopkins said. “You always save the best for last.”
Given what he’s accomplished during the past decade, who can doubt the veracity of Hopkins’ words?